Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Zbigniew Herbert's Majesty

Ecco Press just published Zbigniew Herbert's The Collected Poems 1956-1998. I've been plowing through and marvelling at this body of work. While well acquainted with his fellow Pole and contemporary, Czeslaw Milosz, I had only read a small number of Herbert's translated lyrics-- access was limited as translation was only sporadic. This opus, 600 pages all together, illuminates the moral and historical landscape of Eastern Europe with a newness, a strangeness, an exuberant questing after poetry's legitimacy and its relationship to culture, on the one hand, and the authoritarian state, on the other. Herbert, who died in July 1998, wrote poetry under the auspices of what he called "justice and truth." The lyricism here flies into and beyond the gravity of those concerns and yields an atmosphere at once ominous and moving. The book is $35 but well worth the price for this hefty volume. If you choose to steal it, please do so only from chains and franchises, not the independent booksellers. --curley